Tuesday 23 January 2018

WATCH: 'I didn't know if I could make it work' - Jack Teeling on challenges of turning his vision into a successful business

Jack Teeling, right, with brother Stephen outside the Teeling Whiskey distillery in Dublin, which was the city’s first in more than 125 years
Jack Teeling, right, with brother Stephen outside the Teeling Whiskey distillery in Dublin, which was the city’s first in more than 125 years
Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

With whiskey distilling in his blood and industry experience under his belt, Jack Teeling has managed to transform a personal ambition into a lucrative global empire.

Five years ago, after working in the family business since he finished college - his father John Teeling was behind the Cooley Distillery - Jack teamed up with his brother Stephen to establish Teeling Whiskey.

In this short period, the company has gone on to success both in Ireland and internationally, and Jack himself has been recognised for his ambition, reaching the finals in this year's EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

Furthermore, the company was the first to open a new distillery in Dublin - Teeling Whiskey Distillery, which opened in 2015 - in over 125 years.

But it hasn't been an easy journey, Jack tells Independent.ie.

"Did I know if I could make it [Teelings Whiskey] work? No, I said this is what I’m going to do, there is a lot of new whiskey projects out there, I doubt a lot of them will actually follow through and do what they say they are going to do, but this was very important to me because I have been a producer all my life," he said.

"It took longer and was a lot more complicated than I thought, I was a bit naive in planning and challenges, and architects and all that stuff."

Reflecting on the past 12 months, Jack said that it has been an incredible year for the company,

"Asian sales are up around 40pc, the US took a small step back with the change in distribution, but in every other market we have grown, and we have aggressive plans for next year," he said.

To improve the company’s distribution in the US market the company brought in international drinks company Bacardi, who took a minority stake in Teelings.

Inside the Distillery
Inside the Distillery
Jack Teeling

As Jack explains: "The US is the largest market in the world for Irish whiskey, it’s our number one market.

"Bacardi like what we do and they want us to keep developing the brand and to drive the marketing side of things, but in the US the market is so dominated by the big brands and you need to have a strong partner, it is where all the Irish whiskey growth has happened in the last 20 years. We did well but we didn’t match the level of success we saw in other markets."

In addition to the company’s growth in Ireland and overseas, Jack says that the distillery, based in Dublin’s Liberties, is exceeding expectations with visitor numbers.

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Inside the Distillery

This year alone they are looking at 120,000 visitors and they have had to convert extra space and spend more money on the attraction.

With full-priced tickets for the tour starting at €15, Jack reveals that "for every full price ticket that we sell in the distillery we put a percentage into a fund that we give back to charities, I don’t like to make a big deal out of it, it’s just something that we do."

In terms of expansion going forwards, Jack highlights the US as being a “big opportunity” for the company.

Currently Teelings has nine brand ambassadors based in the US, who's focus is in bars, working, training, and supporting bartenders there.

"Now we have more whiskey available we have to be able to sell more whiskey and scale our business a little bit further and one area where I thought we were a little bit weak was in the US. We brought on board Bacardi which has involved them taking an equity stake in the company and for us to hopefully make a success in that key market."

However Jack also says that there are also "great opportunities for Irish whiskey in the likes of China, the Philippines, and Korea. I feel the taste profile of Irish whiskey is very suitable to the pallet of consumers."

"The challenge for Irish whiskey is education on what Irish whiskey is, really about Ireland and the history behind it."

"We are getting good support from Enterprise Ireland and the Chambers to do this and Bord Bia, our business development officer in Hong Kong is co-founded by Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, as I think they are trying to encourage companies to look outside of the UK, and really for me I think Asia is that opportunity."

"We have very good partners in different parts of Asia, our partner in China has got us in what all the five-star Marriott hotels in China, so we are focusing a lot of education of bartenders and doing a lot of things to be visible."

"We [also] did a partnership with a high-end Chinese winery called the Silk Road Collection, which was again using a premium local brand with an international brand and bringing it together."

As part of the partnership Teelings were given the wine barrels, which Teelings finished their whiskey in and bottled it up using Chinese symbols that represent the Teelings brand.

Teelings Distillery offers guided tours every 20 minutes, with full-priced tickets starting at €15. In addition, the Distillery is available for private functions.

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